Tag Archives: Middle East

How I Went Through the 5 Stages of Grief on Facebook

I woke up last week to the news of the shooting in Paris, and was just horrified. I felt like I couldn’t look away, and ended up switching between Twitter and EW.com to keep up with what was going on. Finally, I was like “Drew, you’ve got to get yourself together,” so I went to Facebook. It’s like a week later and I realize that I totally went through the five stages of grief right there on my wall. I’m sharing them with you guys as part of my healing process.

1. Denial. I will deny myself posting this cool video of a dancing cockatiel so I can share WKQX’s awesome image showing our solidarity with  the victims. I do this because I don’t want anyone thinking for even one minute that I am on the side of the terrorists. I know there are some people out there who think the terrorists were justified or that sometimes terrorism is ok or whatever, but I think that it’s terrible. Have they forgotten 9/11 or Sandy Hook or Hurricane Katrina? Just awful. (But seriously guys? That cockatiel is really, really, rocking out).

2. Anger. I always find myself getting super angry about one small detail of a tragedy. With the Charlie Hebdo attack, I am crazy angry about the murder of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman. The terrorists were Muslim and they killed a Muslim? What is up with that? How can you say that you’re fighting the enemies of Islam and then kill an actual Muslim? I want all my friends to know that I stand with Mr. Merabet’s family. Plus, it’s important for all of us to remind the haters that many Muslims don’t even like terrorists. They’re just like normal people!

charlie hebdo mug

3. Bargaining. Oh God! There is a Groupon available for 2 for 1 admission to Key Lime Cove, the Chicago area’s greatest indoor water park! I have to let everyone know about this bargain! Also, I promise to God that I will pray more often and be a more loyal servant to Him. I am so grateful to be part of a faith that doesn’t have any taboos and no history of violence. If I could just remind more people of our beautiful history, there would be less terrorism in the world.

4. Depression. There is so much evil in the world, and I feel so powerless to do anything about it. Those attacks in Paris were just like the attacks in Austria or wherever a few months ago, or maybe it was last year. You know, the one where all those people were killed and I think they took those poor school girls. God, that was terrible. And now it’s all happening again. Even worse, while we were all talking about the attack in Paris, I saw that there was an attack in Africa – I think it was Uruguay – where all those people died. It’s just awful. I can’t stop thinking about it.

5. Acceptance. It’s like Vice President Cheney once said: we’re all going to be victims of terrorism some day. I think we just have to deal with that. So for now, I’m just going to be happy to live in the greatest country on earth and enjoy all of our freedom. You know what? I feel bad for the terrorists. They come from such a violent culture, where everyone has a gun and people are killed by their neighbors or the police for totally stupid reasons.

Guys, I feel totally better after sharing this, and want to leave with a famous quote: “Can’t we all get along?” Dr. Rodney King said that, and I think it’s ironic that these attacks happened right before the world celebrates his birthday.  I think if more of us tried to follow his words and his example, the world would be a better place.

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Should You Be Outraged? A Guide to Religious Conflict

Early this year, the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project published a study claiming that religious hostilities worldwide reached a six year high. Fully a third of the countries in the world had a significant amount of religious hostility during the reporting period, whether it was on the part of the government or the citizenry.

You could believe that inter-religious violence and hostility is only something that happens “over there.” You could believe that, but only if you don’t spend any time on the Internet. Members of faith communities not only want you to know about the appalling and disgraceful attacks on their co-religionists abroad, but also about anti-religious activity right here at home. Why are they sharing all these terrible things with you? Is it because stories of persecution accomplish the three major goals of organized religion in America (fostering community through shared victimhood, justifying antagonism towards other groups, and fundraising)?

No, it’s because they want you to share in their indignation and outrage. Unfortunately, each of us has only have so much outrage to spare. We can’t go blow our entire outrage wad on religious violence and persecution. We have to save some to direct at Roger Goodell, President Obama, and Kim Kardashian. Also, maybe grand juries. Yet we want to support our friends in the various faith communities. To help you find direction for your indignation, I’ve carefully researched this handy guide that outlines the struggles of five of the world’s major religions. Included is who they are fighting with internationally as well as their challenges closer to home. There is also a handy infographic at the end, outlining just who is fighting with whom.

Religion: Christianity
Percent of World’s Population: 31.5%
Victimized Internationally By: Muslims. Hindus. Buddhists. JewsOther Christians. Also, Communists.
Victimized in America By: 
Homosexuals. Secularists. Atheists. Alsoby a society that gives into hypersensitivity and insists that Christmas displays be taken down. This apparently fuels the hatred and intolerance that lead to persecution, according to Dr. Ben Carson.
Should You Be Outraged?: Yes! Fanatical enemies of Christendom are everywhere, whether they go by the name of Boko Haram in Nigeria or cower under whatever “Political Correctness” is in America.

Six reasons for anti-Semitism

Religion: Judaism
Percent of World Population: .2%
Victimized Internationally By:
Muslims. Other JewsChristians. Worse, per the ADL, over a billion people worldwide harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. This is staggering! Slightly less staggering is a survey that purports to represent world opinion by asking eleven binary questions of people who live in countries where they’ve never met or heard of a Jew, but still!
Victimized in America By: Mean jerks who say nasty things about Israel, preventing the Jewish state from ever taking military action or constructing settlements. Also, a major American television network has aired two seasons of a “sitcom” perpetuating the worst possible stereotypes of Jews.
Should You Be Outraged?: Yes! Because of Schindler’s List.

Religion: Islam
Percent of World Population: 23.2%
Victimized Internationally By: Christians. Jews. Hindus. Buddhists. Also, an alarming number of Muslims are killed by other Muslims.  And who could possibly do anything to stop it when something as confusing as that happens?
Victimized in America By: The FBI. NSA. Congress. The State of Oklahoma, which acted decisively to thwart a nascent Islamic state in their backyard by banning Shar’ia law. The ban was overturned by the secular and politically correct courts last year. See anti-Christian victimization, above.
Should You Be Outraged?: Yes! But you already posted that picture of Mala Yousafzai to your Facebook wall, so you’ve done enough.

Religion: Hinduism
Percent of World Population: 15%
Victimized Internationally By: Muslims. Buddhists. Other Hindus. Also, American academics who write dangerous books about Hinduism and sexy, sexy, sex.
Victimized in America By: We are all complicit in the theft of yoga from the Hindus. Also, prominent Hindus on TV only pursue non-Hindu men and others talk in affected accents and lack machismo.
Should You Be Outraged?: Yes! The flashbacks in Slumdog Millionaire are very upsetting.


The Embarrassing Face of American Buddhism

Religion: Buddhism
Percent of World Population: 7%
Victimized Internationally By:  Muslims. Communists. Other Buddhists. Also, evangelical Christians believe that the biggest problem facing Tibet is that they aren’t Christian enough.
Victimized in America By: It’s bad enough that every liberal arts student becomes a Buddhist for four months after finishing their comparative religion class.  It’s quite another to for Buddhism to be appropriated by countless celebrities, so that the face of American Buddhism is the fat, stupid face of Steven Seagal.
Should You Be Outraged! Yes! Do you want a washed up B-movie action star representing your religious community?

Boy! That is a a lot of violence, persecution, and oppression. It’s almost as if some members of religious groups will always find a reason to fight other religious groups and if that gets boring, they turn on members of their own faith in a neverending cycle of attacks and retaliation. Actually, that pretty much sums it up. Here’s a handy summary chart that you can clip out and carry with you for a handy reference for the next time a person of faith tells you that theirs is a religion of peace.

religious violence

It’s probably too easy to get depressed by all the violence and strife in the world caused by intra- and inter-religious conflict. Look at it one way, and it’s like the NFL – pointless barbarity for the sake of score settling based on manufactured rivalries where young men face all the risk, recruited by wealthier folk who somehow never get their hands bloody.  Look at it another way, religious groups are like the NFL – if they didn’t have their rivalries, what would they do with their time?  Look at it a third way, and it’s like the NFL – to people who don’t follow it, the stakes seem incredibly low. All that struggle for a lousy ten yards or that stupid patch of dirt where a guy supposedly saw something he couldn’t explain.  That might be the biggest outrage of all.

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We Suck At Wars in the Middle East

The US Congress has authorized arming Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State, and the US has started its bombing campaign. It’s about time. I mean, it’s about time for an election so of course Congress had to look like it was doing something. And they had to do something because there were two American journalists who suffered gruesome, horrible deaths. Americans by and large supported this doing of something, because after three years of the Syrian Civil War, they finally discovered what much of the world already knew: there was a civil war in Syria.

Americans paid attention to the execution of the journalists more than any other story of the past five years. That’s to be expected: James Foley and Steven Sotloff died horribly, whereas the 191,000 Syrians who met their demise before them presumably did so in a wacky, lighthearted, and utterly charming way. Chemical weapons and cluster munitions are well known as the Laverne & Shirley of ways to die. Strategy suggestion to the ten million Syrian refugees: have you thought about dumping buckets of ice water on your heads? Also, being Arab isn’t helping.

The same survey that revealed Americans now know that Syria isn’t the thing you pour milk on for breakfast also showed we feel less safe. This makes sense: the Islamic State is a whole lot more frightening than Count Chocula, though possibly less anti-Semitic than that particular cereal. Speaking of Muslims, President Obama now has an approval rating lower than his forehead at Friday prayer (zing!). Thus we find ourselves with a weak President, a Republican party with its eyes on taking the Senate, ghastly deaths, and a sort of non-specific fear. Sounds like as good a time as any to get into a non-specific war in the Middle East.

blog on gwotWe’ve been here before. Charging into a troubled region to restore order when no one else has the will or the means. The only problem is this: the American military sucks at Middle East wars. Really, really sucks. You may remember something called the Global War on Terror, the official term for the various American overseas adventures of the 21st century. The GWOT cost $5 trillion in the first 10 years, or $16,000 for every American. That’s a staggering amount of money. We could have bought every American a new car, though if that car was a GM they might actually have felt safer fighting in Iraq. To be clear, President Obama changed the name of GWOT in 2009 and declared it over last year. Though he declared he’d close Gitmo at the same time. The guy makes a lot of declarations. It doesn’t change the fact that we suck at Middle East wars.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing our troops, or the men and women I prefer to call Future Neglected Veterans. I’m criticizing our military leadership, commonly called “the brass” because of their tendency to be tarnished by insubordination, poking their biographers, and covering up widespread sexual abuse. And I’m not just some weak-kneed liberal sitting on his couch banging out a stupid blog while watching America’s Test Kitchen. I’m some weak-kneed liberal banging out a stupid blog while watching America’s Test Kitchen who can turn the Joint Chiefs of Staff words against them.

This is thanks to a document published eight years ago, “National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism.” This is the real deal. You can tell – it has a giant picture of an eagle on it. As the cover letter from General Peter Pace notes, the document was produced as the US was entering its 5th year of fighting the GWOT. The five year mark must have seemed like as good a time as any to finally come up with a strategy for the war (though we continued to fart around in Iraq until the “Surge” of the following year.) Here are the objectives for the GWOT, as described in the document:

1. “Deny Terrorists What They Need to Operate and Survive”
2. “Enable Partner Nations to Counter Terrorism”
3. “Deny WMD/E Proliferation, Recover and Eliminate Uncontrolled Materials…”
4. “Defeat Terrorists and Their Organizations/Counter State and Non-State Support for Terrorism…”
5. “Contribute to the Establishment of Conditions That Counter Ideological Support for Terrorism”

You know how members of Congress get themselves all hot and bothered about accountability and measurable results in public education? Wouldn’t it be great if they could find themselves in a comparable  froth about accountability from the military when it sets clear objectives and then clearly fails to meet any of them them? Look at that list. I don’t think that in the summer of 2014, ISIS felt particularly denied of their operational or survival needs. Iraq is a partner nation of ours, and countered ISIS by cleverly losing part of their country to them. North Korea still has nukes. Iran still has nukes. Syria has used at least two kinds of chemical weapons. States and non-states have supported terrorist groups without much hesitation. Why are we going into another war with the military and the military strategy that screwed up the last one?

buckner1No, really. Where we really, truly, and horribly Bill Bucknered the War on Terror is on #5. Because here’s the kicker: remember how we made sure there were no Ba’athists left in the Iraqi military in 2003? And then remember how after that al Qaeda was able to establish a foothold in Iraq because it took us four years to realize we weren’t being welcomed as liberators? Remember how how no one in America – not the president, not the military, and definitely not the public – wanted to get involved to stop the slaughter in Syria? It’s a historic joke: disgruntled ex-military men and radical Islamists walk into a rapidly destabilizing country.  The punchline: The Ba’athist and ISIS from an alliance to take over part of Iraq. Ha! Get it? The other funny part is that after the US decided not to take military action against the Syrian government, we now are giving the Syrian government — the one that is responsible for the deaths of almost 200,000 people – advanced warning that we will be bombing their country.

But the Syrian government shouldn’t worry, because we’ll be bombing the other party responsible for gruesome deaths and the suffering of thousands.

This will likely be over soon. In his address to the nation on ISIS, President Obama promised a limited effort. The President also claimed that “this is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom.” The President is right. We stood with the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets, until we lost interest in 1989. We stood with the Shi’a and Kurdish rebellion against Saddam in Iraq, and then we didn’t. The United States stood with Sunni Arabs during the “Awakening” in 2007 until we pulled out of Iraq completely in 2011. We promised Syrian civilians the Assad government would face consequences for using chemical weapons, and they didn’t.

All of our previous efforts in the greater Middle East seem to lead to one conclusion: no matter how badly this war goes, the next one will probably be worse. Which is great, because we suck at wars in the Middle East.




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There Never Was “Peace” in the Peace Process – Here’s Why

Hello Dear Readers,

The following is a major re-edit of a post I wrote back in February. You can read the original here. In light of the kickoff another of Israel and Hamas’ fairly regular wars in Gaza (2004, 2008, and 2012 – but who’s counting?) this month, I went back and revisited my original pessimism to add *even more* pessimism. Unlike those other internet commentaries you’re reading on this absurd tragedy, I at least acknowledge my shameless rehashing of old ideas.

Here’s what you need to know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: no one in a position of power to do anything about it really wants peace.

Neither the Israel government, the Obama Administration, nor the Palestinian Authority stand to benefit from peace. Peace doesn’t pay. All I am saying: peace has no chance. Put that on a t-shirt.

I love the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. With his terrible combover, stench of corruption, and condescending way of speaking to the press, he reminds me of an American senator. And if you come across any interview with him, he will be sure to note that Hamas rejects the existence of Israel and a two-state solution. What he usually forgets to mention is that he rejects the existence of a sovereign Palestinian state and a two-state solution. It must have slipped his mind, as did similar rejections by his defense minister and his economic minister. His foreign minister is a soft touch, though — he only wants to cleanse all of the Arabs out of Israel.

Luckily, civilians aren’t interested in peace either, at least as it’s currently defined. One survey showed 60% of Israelis supported reclaiming all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They only supported a two-state solution until you explained it to them. But that’s ok, because 63% of Palestinians indicated that they too have no faith in a two-state solution.

Israel Palestinians Nonstop Rockets-5Sure, Israeli civilians would be better off if there were peace. Palestinian civilians would be better off. But if the 21st century has taught us nothing else so far, it’s that nobody really cares about civilians in the Middle East.  Worse, the Palestinians are Arab civilians. And people really don’t care about them – the West Bank and Gaza are like the west and south sides of Chicago where we can be depressed about goes on there and also remain blissfully detached.  Otherwise reasonable people I know  are hitting me up to give money to an emergency fund for Israel. Leaving aside the asymmetrical body count in that conflict, we’re in a year where more than *5,000* Iraqi civilians have been killed and there are 170,000 dead Syrians we could be thinking about. I figure we could at least provide Syrian civilians with a super high tech anti-missile system like we gave the Israelis. Israel has the 37th largest GDP per capita in the world, and could probably have bought one themselves. On the other hand, what do you get for the country that has everything?

The fact that none of the three parties will benefit from peace isn’t the same as saying that they can’t benefit from peace negotiations. The leadership of the Palestinian Authority will be yanked out of office by their ears if they negotiate peace and find themselves with a state. The lefties will want them out of office because they’re ineffective and comically corrupt, like Arab Blagojeviches. The hardliners will attack them with accusations that they were duped by Israel and the US. A Palestinian state means no more PA. If you were leading the PA, your best strategy would be to enter negotiations just to keep that sweet, sweet embezzleable aid money from the US and Israel coming. Meanwhile, you would look on the side for other other options, like pursuing Israel in international courts, getting your friend the UN involved, or trying to get foreign companies to turn the screws on Israel.

Which brings us to Israel. Imagine that you are the PA and you ordered a half pepperoni/half sausage pizza with Israel (in the Middle East, everyone secretly loves pork). It arrives, and you have to decide how to split it up. Pie cut or square cut? 50/50 or some other way? You can’t agree. John Kerry comes in to discuss with both of you. While you’re making your case, you notice something: Israel is already eating the pizza. Now imagine that instead of pizza, we’re talking about a wedge of desert with Mumbo-Jumbo Bible sauce and a topping of swarthy people. Israel’s eating that pie about as fast as it can.

Why wouldn’t they? No one said they couldn’t eat the pizza while figuring out what to do with the rest of it. If they just handed a bunch of pieces over to the Palestinians, they’d be attacked by their right wing for giving away their very special pizza with Mumbo Jumbo Bible sauce. The best strategy is clearly to talk as long as possible while enjoying the holy Jesus out of that pizza. Anything else would result in a net loss of pizza. Plus, as long as you’re talking with the Mumbo-Jumbo Bible sauce trickling down your chin, America will give you diplomatic cover, high tech anti-missile systems, and boatloads of money so you can keep eating the pizza.

It would be a real problem if the United States actually brought about a solution to all of this. Peace means Israel would have to give up some of the pizza it loves so much. Lots of people in the US really, really, want Israel to keep on enjoying that pizza. Especially people who are fans of Mumbo Jumbo Bible sauce, like most Republicans and many Democrats in Congress. But not just them. There are people who think Israel is an important ally, find it an enjoyable vacation spot, or would simply rather side with Israel than with the dread Arabs. There are also people who think that Israel earned a free pizza with a coupon they found at the bottom of a box of Genocide. Whichever it is, If the Obama Administration looked like it was about to take take the pizza away from Israel, make it give some back, or close the box, Congress and the press would go nuts.

Clearly, a really good strategy for everyone is to negotiate as long as possible with no intention of a resolution. How long can this go on? Forever. Here’s the secret: you don’t come to a negotiation about how the pizza is shared prepared to talk about pizza. First, you have to create a framework agreement to negotiate how you’ll negotiate over the pizza.

Confused? We have a disagreement about sharing pizza. The US says “we’re going to talk about pizza, ok? But just about the toppings and the crust. We’ll talk about the cheese, condiments and napkins later.” The Palestinians say “No. We want to talk about the pizza entirely. Right now.” The Israelis say, “Fine. We’ll talk about pizza. But first, we must agree we will never give up the delicious corner pieces, and you can’t have napkins.” The US responds with “Ok. Let’s come back to corner pieces and napkins later. Palestinians, you must agree you won’t throw a fit and spit on it or something. Israel, for CHRIST’S SAKE HOW CAN YOU FIT THAT MUCH PIZZA IN YOUR MOUTH?” And so on.

Peace talks were and for the foreseeable future will be a stalling tactic. And when they don’t work, we have a little war. You might be one of those people who think that wars are terrible. They are — unless you’re an Israeli or Palestinian hardliner. If you’re Hamas, and you want to ensure continued support in Gaza, it’s best if the population experiences prolonged period of Israeli attacks. And the good news for hard-line Israeli politicians is that a Hamas barrage launched into Israel may increase their electoral support for by up to seven points.

Alright. Who wants to go out and get a pizza?


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Death Comes to Us All – Faster if You’re Leading Iraq

The United States is a lousy friend to have. Take the case of Nuri al Maliki. The Bush Administration raised him from obscurity and installed him as Prime Minister because he was less corrupt, less incompetent, and less friendly with the Iranians than the other guys. We supported Maliki for years, even as he became as incompetent and friendly with Iran as the other guys, learning to be a ruthless authoritarian in the process. As a rule, we’re usually fine with authoritarians, until the other week, when it looked like Maliki  might lose control of Iraq to ruthless Islamists. The American public can tolerate a lot, but not the idea that we fought a fruitless war to liberate a country that will now be unliberated by the dread Islamists. So various people who should know better have called on Maliki to resign.

Disclaimer: I’ve never been the President or Prime Minister of Iraq. If Iraq were to reestablish a monarchy, I wouldn’t have a chance at being king. So I can’t really say what’s going on in Nuri al Maliki’s mind. But if I were him, there is no way that I would ever, ever, resign. Because I know what Maliki knows: terrible things happen to the leaders of Iraq when they lose power.

Saddam-Hussein-exe_2511167bYou probably think I mean Saddam. He got off relatively easy. Sure, he was taunted, then hanged, and then his dead body shown on TV.  And yes, cell phone footage of the hanging went viral. But he was spared the indignity of his half-brother’s execution a month later, which accidentally turned into a decapitation (oops). I wonder if Saddam ever wished he could have died in a firefight like his sons, who left marginally better looking corpses when they too were shown on TV (don’t click the link if you’re eating).

Here’s the thing Maliki must be thinking about: if I resign, I am going to die a painful death?  A painful death followed by the indignity of my mangled body being displayed on TV? There’s a strong precedent for this: Abd al-Karim Qasim, who led the revolution against the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 was executed by a firing squad following a coup in 1963. His body ended up in  a television studio, which broadcast footage of his body for hours. Here’s a fun fact: there’s pretty good evidence that the CIA supported Qasim’s overthrow, and wanted him assassinated as early as 1959 – when they enlisted the help of a bumbling thug named – you guessed it – Saddam Hussein. Saddam screwed it up, but he earned a “use chemical weapons free” card from the US, which he cashed in against Iran decades later.  Meanwhile, the US decided to support Qasim for awhile because he was anti-Nasser, and we hated Nasser even more in the early 1960s.

Maliki might find some relief in Qasim’s successor, Abd al Salam Arif. He wasn’t shot or hanged, and his body wasn’t displayed on TV. Arif was president for three whole years before he was killed in a plane crash in 1966, likely the result of sabotage by the Ba’athists. He was eventually replaced by his brother – who was President for two years before being overthrown in another CIA-backed coup. Oddly enough, Arif’s brother lived to be 91. Historians suspect he might have been a Highlander. Arif’s daughter and her family were killed in 2004, though it’s not clear if it was because of a 38-year grudge against Arif, or just because Iraq was a terrible place to be a year after the US invasion. Not that the current mess is in any way related to that invasion, of course.

Maliki is being rational in not wanting to die. You know who isn’t? The cousin of one of Iraq’s kings, who wants to restore the monarchy.  It’s true that the first king of Iraq,who was also briefly the first king of Syria, even though he was from neither place, (long story) didn’t go too horribly. Faysal I was only 48 when he died in 1933 of a heart attack in Switzerland, and there’s only some suspicion he was poisoned. Plus, history has treated him pretty well — he negotiated full independence from Britain and got a sympathetic portrayal by Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia; Ewan McGregor will play him in the prequel. Faysal’s son Ghazi assumed the throne, leading to a period of political instability when only one defense minister was assassinated and tossed in a ditch. A couple of generals were assassinated, too – but one of them, Bakr Sidqi, was kind of big into massacres, so he probably deserved it. Sidqi also has the distinction of leading the first coup d’etat in a modern Arab country, in 1936, so he was something of a trendsetter – and he did it without the CIA, which didn’t exist yet.

King Ghazi was really into cars. Before he could legally drive, he raced cars on a track in England. Here’s an ethical quiz for you: if someone offers you a really sweet 1936 silver Mercedes Benz convertible, do you take it? Question two: do you take it if the car is from Adolf Hitler? Ghazi did.  So it probably served him right that he died in a suspicious car crash in 1939 when he lost control and hit an electric pole.

Chuck Dressen, Faisal II of Iraq, and Jackie Robinson

Ghazi’s son, Faisal II, was only four when his father died, so his uncle, Abd al Illah, was regent for fourteen years until Faysal II came of age in 1953 – the same year his cousin, King Hussein became king of Jordan (also a long story). At this point, you might be asking yourself, “did the young king of Iraq ever tour the US and hang out with Jackie Robinson?” The answer is yes! Now, you might say, “Ok. But did he also meet James Mason?” Guess what? The answer is also yes!

King_Faisal_II_and_Prince_AbdulIlah_visiting_with_Deborah_Kerr_and_James_MasonFaysal looks so happy in the pictures (at right), which is touching – because a few years later, he was going to die horribly. Really, really, horribly.  In 1958, when Abd al-Karim Qasim led the coup to overthrow the monarchy, Faysal and his family -his uncle, his mother, his sister, fiance, and 6 year old nephew –  were cornered in their palace in Baghdad. They tried to surrender, but instead were chased into a courtyard and shot. There’s conflicting reports on whether Faysal was beheaded – but his uncle, who was hated from his time as regent – was first hung in the street, then dismembered with his various parts paraded through the streets. Faysal’s Prime Minister, who served in the position fourteen times beginning in 1930, had a reputation for being a little too pro-Western, anti-democratic, and repressive. He initially escaped capture in Baghdad by disguising himself as a woman, but was eventually captured, shot, and disemboweled. He was buried, dug up, dismembered, and then run over by a car. This process is known in Arabic as being “itchied and scratchied,” hence the inspiration for The Simpsons.

One can see why the current pro-Western, anti-democratic, repressive Prime Minister of Iraq might be concerned about losing power. The only way he can avoid a terrible fate is through repression of any opposition, something he seems very willing to do – and which the United States seems generally happy to ignore. The trick for him now is to make it clear that ISIS is a huge threat (successful so far), and that’s he’s the person who can secure Iraq (less clear). If the ISIS threat were to somehow subside, the US might decide he’s bad for our image and let him fall. Or, if we decide that he’s not the person we want to secure Iraq, he might find himself going to pieces. Literally. Maliki has to be terrified of what will happen when the US turns on him. He might not be ready for his final TV appearance yet.







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One Day in Afghanistan

taliban-fighters“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans…” Joint statement of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-CA) and  ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (OK) – May 31, 2014.


Somewhere in Wardak province, Afghanistan. Dusk. Two Taliban scouts, Khaseb and Omar, are squatting behind a ridge overlooking a small US Army outpost. 

Khaseb: “…so she says to me, I don’t care if you go…Can you believe it? Like I’m no good to her after the poppies are harvested. Anyway, what are you going to do? Fighting season couldn’t come soon enough this year.”

Omar: “I know, right? I used to be like poppies first, jihad second. But now, I don’t know. The last three or four years, I’ve been thinking…”

Khaseb (interupting): “Hey! Look! The Americans are out on foot patrol again!”

Omar: “No shit! So close to dark?”

Khaseb: “Hey! Whaddya say we kidnap one?”

Omar: “Are you kidding? You know how much Americans eat? Keeping an American hostage is crazy expensive. Plus, the Americans will never negotiate with us to get one of their soldiers back.”

Khaseb: “DUDE! Haven’t you heard? The Americans are totally negotiating with us now!”

Omar: “No way! The Americans? They say they never negotiate with ‘terrorists’  (Both laugh). Plus, the American government’s words always match their deeds! Except for when they’re talking about torture, or spying on themselves, or how if you like your health care plan you can keep it.”

Khaseb: “What? What in the name of Allah the most merciful is health care?”

Omar: “I don’t know. Just something I heard. So wait, Obama will negotiate with us now?”

Khaseb: “Yes! He’s bargaining like a rug salesman in Kabul…Guess how many Talibs he traded for one Army sergeant?”

Omar: “Two.”

Khaseb: “Keep going.”

Omar: “Three.”

Khaseb: “Here’s a hint: how many Pillars of Islam?”

Omar: “Obama traded FIVE Talibs for ONE SERGEANT?”

Khaseb: “This is what I’m saying. Exciting, huh? Makes me feel all…what’s the word?”

Omar: “Emboldened?”

Khaseb: “Yeah! I’m totally emboldened. FIve talibs for one guy! It’s a huge emboldening! (throws his hands up excitedly) Whoo!”

Omar and Khaseb go to high five, then realize awkwardly that they are supposed to be hiding.

Khaseb: “So, what do you say? Should we nab one?”

Omar: “Yes! Kidnapping one of their soldiers will destroy American morale!”

Khaseb: “Well, I don’t know about that…”

Omar: “What do you mean? We will crush the American spirit with his ordeal! Americans love their soldiers! Don’t you ever listen to their ‘country music?'”

Khaseb: “What?! No!…Does HARAM mean anything to you? Anyway, this last one – most Americans had never heard of him until last week. We had him for five years and they didn’t even notice!”

Omar: “You’re kidding! Maybe he should have kicked Jay-Z’s ass in an elevator.. (Khaseb looks at him quizzically). Still, if we capture one, we could get five more of our brothers released. It will be glorious!”

Khaseb: “No way! There’s going to be congressional hearings and investigations, and the mid-term elections coming up. Obama’s not going to do a deal like this again.”

There’s a long pause as the two men consider their options. The excitement has abated.

Omar: “So, what, Obama is just going to keep using those flying death robots on us now?”

Khaseb: “Probably. He LOVES those things. I guess he never had toy planes when he was a boy in Nairobi.”

Omar: “Hey — I have an idea! While the Americans are out on patrol, let’s go raid the base and steal their weapons! We will chase them out of our country once and for all!”

Khaseb: “I dunno. It’s pretty risky. Plus, the Americans already said they’re leaving. We can just wait and take their weapons when they’re gone. That’s what they did in Iraq. And in Libya. Even in Mali. Seems safer that way.”

Omar: “I don’t get it. The only place Americans DON’T want us to have their weapons is in Syria? They didn’t used to be so picky. My uncle still has the crate for a Stinger missile launcher in his garage.”

Khaseb: “Yeah, my dad used his as a coffee table. Nice green color. Went good with the rug…so, what should we do?”

Omar: “I’m feeling a whole lot less emboldened than I was a few minutes ago.”

Khaseb: “Yeah, I was feeling emboldened, too — but now I’m disemboldened. Or deemboldened. Whatever. It’s not worth it.”

Omar (sighs): “Hey, you got a cigarette?”

Khaseb: “Dude! HARAM!”

Omar: “You know, for Taliban, you’re not much fun.”





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Wild World of Iranimals

Chicago finally thawed a few weeks ago. Why not take the dog for a walk? See some birds, maybe some crocuses. Nope.  All I saw was the staggering, disgusting amount of dog crap. The only time I didn’t notice the dog crap is when I was trying to save myself or my dog from some other dog free of its leash in the park near my house. As 90+ pounds of inbred stupidity, teeth, claws, and drool came bounding towards us, the owner would yell “don’t worry! he’s a good dog!” Dog owners never believe it’s going to be their dog that attacks someone, and they’re never the person who didn’t clean up after their dogs. Of course, if that were true, there wouldn’t be so much dog crap everywhere, or dogs biting children, pedestrians, and cyclists.

This is why we should ban dogs. I would happily give up my dog if it meant never having to deal with anyone else’s dog or dog crap again. I know this will never happen. We’re obsessed with our dogs. We spent fifty-five billion dollars on our pets last year, mostly on dogs, and probably on premium dog food for people who don’t understand they’re feeding dogs. I wish we lived in a more enlightened society. Like Iran.

In 2010, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi issued a religious ruling against dog ownership, noting that the animals are unclean. I can’t really argue with the Grand Ayatollah, and he hasn’t even been to the park near my house. He also viewed dog ownership as an import from the West, a place where some people love their dogs more than their wives or children. The Grand Ayatollah has a point. We have a lot of lonely, sick, depressed people in the West. People who refer to my eight year old mutt as “baby” or “puppy” and talk to him like he’s an infant, and not an animal that will happily eat the crap of other animals, but will throw up if he eats turkey.

I think America has a screwed up relationship with animals in general. I’ll tell you has the right attitude toward animals: Iran. While Americans are trying (and failing disastrously) to turn whales into entertainers at SeaWorld, Iran has recognized these vicious monsters for what they are: ideal weapons platforms. And the Iranians didn’t just limit themselves to whales. They’ve had weaponized dolphins, seals, and sea lions for well over a decade. These animals can attack enemies with harpoons strapped to their backs, or undertake kamikaze missions by carrying mines to enemy ships. I say it’s time we stop making sappy children’s movies where the orphan rescues the stranded whale, and start teaching our children about the dangers of homicidal kamikaze dolphins. I bet that that smile and those unblinking eyes don’t seem so adorable in the seconds before you’re impaled by a back-launched harpoon. Thank God for Vladimir Putin. If he hadn’t revealed Ukraine’s combat dolphins to be merciless traitors, we might never have known about Iran’s program at all.

Iran isn’t just after animal mastery in the aquatic dominion. They are sending their animal soldiers into space, as they develop ever more sophisticated rocket technology along with their nuclear program. You might know that in 1961, the US sent a chimp into low orbit for sixteen minutes. The chimp came back and lived the rest of his life at the zoo. Not a very exciting story. Compare that to Iran. Last year, they sent a monkey into space – and not long after, a different monkey came back. Just think: in what seemed like only fifteen minutes on earth, the original monkey entered into a wormhole and discovered a planet full of friendly aliens. He was able to establish an entire simian-alien civilization, which advanced to such a level that they were able to develop their own space program and send back an emissary to Earth. Sadly, they never developed the ability to speak Farsi, and the resultant episode was a PR disaster for Iran. Still, this was Iran’s most successful foray into space so far – no one knows what happened to the turtles, worm, and mouse they’d launched previously. Perhaps the cat they’re planning to send next will find them, though their whole space program is starting to resemble the Little Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.

Iran has good reason to invest so heavily in animal-based defense technology. They are under constant threat from enemy animals in their region. And not all of them are as big or obvious as a harpoon-wielding kamikaze dolphins or transdimensional monkey astronauts.  Sometimes, the most lethal animals are those you’d least expect. I’m speaking of course of the fourteen spy squirrels that Iran arrested in 2007, no doubt under the direction of Iran’s mortal enemy, Israel. It’s not clear whether these were native Iranian squirrels turned to espionage by their Israeli handlers, or whether Israel was able to cleverly disguise their own Jewish squirrels and send them deep undercover. Either way, I’d love to see the video montage of their training.

Given the tensions in the region, it’s no surprise that Israel would try again to infiltrate Iran with highly trained rodents. As is the case with such things, Israel’s escalation led to a violent response from Iran. When the giant Zionist mutant rats invaded Tehran, the Iranian authorities showed them no mercy, deploying “ten teams of sharpshooters armed with rifles equipped with infra-red sights” in a “24/7 war” against the eleven pound rodents. Take that Israel! You’re just going to have to go back to ear poison, head-removing cell-phone bombs, or pretending to be Canadian.

If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that there’s no event so terrible that it can’t be featured on a memorial tote bag.  But if it taught us two things, the other was that we ignore events in the Middle East at our peril. It’s only a matter of time before the Iranians or another one of our enemies deploys animals capable of despoiling our land land, terrifying and attacking our children, and destroying our economy. We’ll be left to cry havoc as they let slip the dogs of war. And their crap.













Fake monkey, fake missile launch

Iran Fatwa against dogs:



US uses Sea Lions:


Iran Squirrels:


Iran Giant Mutant Rats:




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Chicago hu Akbar

Who can understand the Middle East? So many different groups. Shias, Sunnis, Alawites, weird off-brand Christians and a strangely militaristic variety of Jew we don’t have in the US. I know this from watching the news: the place is a basket case. Do Arabs or Muslims even know what democracy means? The whole region is run by dictators of one kind or another, and history shows us that those people have no interest in governing themselves well. It’s just a mess, top to bottom. Why bother even trying to make sense of it? Thomas Friedman has been trying for 30 years, and has succeeded only in making bloviating mustachioed half-wits everywhere look bad.

Here’s a quiz. 42 years. Is it (a) how long the Assads have controlled Syria, or (b) how long the Daleys controlled Chicago. Wrong answer! It’s both!

Earlier this month, my alderman, Richard Mell, announced his retirement. He’s been alderman for 38 years, and God knows the last time someone ran against him. You could choose to believe that he was doing such a good job, and the position of alderman is so thankless, that no one bothered. Or, you could believe that since he was both the alderman and the Democratic committeeman he could use the resources of both offices to do tricks like contesting the signatures on petitions that opponents are required to file, effectively preventing their ability to get on the ballot. Of course, if you did oppose him, you either had to be sure to win or face the threat of having your trash service get cut off, your business license magically being revoked, etc. It was far easier to support him – your alley got shoveled, your trees got trimmed, and – if you were lucky – he’d give you or your cousin a job. The 33rd Ward in Chicago runs pretty much like the Ba’ath party in Iraq did for 40 years. Minus the torture and murder, of course. In Chicago, the police do the torture, and the gangs do the murder. Completely different. Also, for most of the time, there was more than one political party in Iraq.

If Mell would have retired after 20 years, he would’ve been known for trying to block the political success of Mayor Harold Washington, for the unspeakable crime of being a black person. If Mell would have retired after 30 years, he would have been remembered for engineering the rise of his son-in-law, Rod Blagojevich, to the governor’s office, from where he turned on his patron, tried to sell every privilege he could, and became a national joke. But now, at 38 years, Mell gets to be known for all of those things AND getting himself replaced by his own daughter, State Rep. Deborah Mell, whose rise he also carefully engineered. Mayor Emmanuel, our own cartoonishly ill-tempered diminutive dictator, announced her appointment yesterday.  It’s not just the crazy Arabs who like hereditary oligarchy.

Among the many things that led to Mubarak’s fall in Egypt was the deep suspicion that after 30 years in power (fewer than Mell’s), he was going to engineer the rise of his son, Gamal, and deny Egyptians the right to choose their own leader. Alderman Mell just retired halfway through his term, so that Mayor Emmanuel could appoint a phony-baloney “commission” to consider a list of straw men, and then come to what everyone knew was a foregone conclusion. Are Chicagoans storming their own Tahrir? Hell no. We only go pouring out in the streets when one of our heavily taxpayer-subsidized-privately-owned sports teams wins a championship after a series of games that few taxpayers could afford to attend. Go Hawks!

Mayor Emmanuel said that Rep. Mell’s name shouldn’t disqualify her. Are you f^&king kidding me, Mr. Mayor, you f^&king ret@rd? Rep. Mell’s ONLY qualification is her name. Mayor Emmanuel will say that she is ‘qualified” to be alderman because she was a state representative. And she was a state representative because…HER NAME IS MELL.  Her official Illinois General Assembly bio page only lists her NAME. The scant details on her office bio site suggest that she wandered back to Chicago one day after culinary school and suddenly – POOF! – became state representative. Magic! Like her name was a magical word that opened donor’s wallets, made her name appear on ballots, and made an office appear RIGHT NEXT TO HER FATHER’S.(maybe it’s the same magic power that Ahmadinejad claimed held the audience rapt at the UN when he spoke there in 2005).

I’ll give this to King Abdullah II and Bashar Assad: they at least served in the military.  Sure, they were window-dressing posts. But even in backwards, undemocratic Arab countries, their fathers thought they should go through the motions of giving their kids legitimacy. Muammar Gaddafi even threw a bunch of money at the London School of Economics so his son, Saif al-Islam, could have a doctorateHow is it possible that a bunch of dictators care more about the credibility of their “elected” leaders than Chicagoans do?

Of course, I’m only singling out the Mells because I happen to live in their emirate. I could just as easily talk about the Daley, Stroger, Jackson, or Madigan dynasties. My recent favorite was Joseph Berrios, the current Cook County Assessor, who put fifteen (15!) members of his family on the county payroll while firing 53 poor schmucks who didn’t have the good fortune to be related to him. That kind of nepotism would make the family of Ibn Saud drool. Or it would if they hadn’t had their salivary glands removed so as to prevent fouling the tarry masses on their chins.

A report from UIC notes that the city council is even more accommodating to Mayor Emmanuel than it was for Mayor Daley. That article also cites a piece in Chicago magazine that helpfully points out  that, at the end of 2012, “Emanuel had racked up 1,333 “yes” votes to 112 “nos,” and he has never lost a vote on the floor.” That’s 92% – or as they call it in Iraq, Saddam’s average margin of electoral victory, 1968 – 2002. Over 30% of the council got their seats by appointment from the mayor. This isn’t an independent legislative body. It’s a rubber stamp Majlis, signing off on the big stupid vanity projects of the Emir of Qatar. Of course, I mean no offense to His Excellency Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Just like a good Chicago alderman, he’s recently retired and handed power to his son. And if he lets the elections originally scheduled for 2013 happen, the Qatari Majlis will actually have a greater number of members come to their seats by election than the Chicago City Council. But will they have 30 members indicted for corruption in 30 years? Suck it, Qatar. Americans can’t even say your name right.

Let’s talk about those big stupid vanity projects. In October 1971, the Shah of Iran hosted a giant gala at Persepolis to celebrate 2500 years of the Persian Monarchy. This really angered average Iranians, and not just because His Majesty was the second member of what would turn out to be a two-person dynasty. It was a lavish and expensive boondoggle, wasting millions of dollars at a time when many Iranians were still illiterate and most of the country still had 19th century infrastructure. Richie Daley, the second member of Chicago’s two-person dynasty, capped an orgy of flashy vanity projects (Millennium Park, Navy Pier, Northerly Island) with his bid for the 2016 Olympics, an epic waste of time and money at a time when Chicago’s schools were headed for a financial abyss, streets were caving in, water mains breaking, and coyotes were returning to the desolate wastelands of the far south side.

Your Shahs of Iran, King Farouks of Egypt, and various Iraqi Monarchs were always solving the financial problems caused by their vanity projects by bargaining away their countries resources. King Farouk gave the British control of the Suez for 20 years in 1936. In 1901, the Qajar Shah in Iran signed away most of his country’s oil revenues for 60 years. Only some despotic Muslim ruler would sign away a major source of revenue for what is effectively perpetuity. Allah hu akbar, right Mayor Daley? Nice going selling our streets for 75 years. And even though Rahm rips on the deal, so far he’s only proposed changes that have made it worse.  This while  trying his own hand at autocratic mismanagement, by closing public schools and cutting the budgets for the remaining ones (via a wholly undemocratic school board), while also gift-wrapping $130 million for DePaul’s basketball team, millions to downtown real estate developers, and – just for kicks – giving out $5 million to make sure they still make hot dogs in Chicago. Chicagoans, don’t pretend for a moment that you can’t understand how Egyptians feel when they realized they traded Mubarak for Morsi.

There’s no Chicago Spring, and there’s not going to be. The Arab Spring took place in a hopeful moment when people believed that politics didn’t have to be winner take all. If a rival group or faction took office, maybe for the first time they wouldn’t dole out favors to their friends and screw everyone else. In Chicago, we’ve never believed that for a second.  Worse, we’ve fallen into the trap that folks in the Middle East did until recently: we’ve let ourselves be placated by the baubles our autocrats bestowed on us – the parks, the bike lanes, and the shiny new train cars that distract us from  the Chicago River stench of corruption and entitlement emanating from our dynastic despots. Worse, we all have a discomfiting certainty that things could always be worse. We could return to our gangland days. We could become Detroit. Or Cleveland. Like the Lebanese, we have a neighbor that looks like us, talks like us, appropriated parts of our culture, and yet is most definitely hostile to us.

They have Israel. We have Schaumburg.

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